Despite saving wounded Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell in Afghanistan and helping ‘Lone Survivor’ make tens of millions in profits at the box office, Mohammad Gulab is struggling to protect his family from an endless stream of Taliban attacks.
In 2005, the rural village dweller lived in a small town in the mountainous Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan, along the contentious border with Pakistan. While in the wilderness near his home, Gulab discovered the severely wounded Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell.Shot in the leg and suffering from fractures in three vertebrae, Luttrell desperately needed water and medical care after his unit was involved in a firefight with the Taliban. He was the sole survivor from his unit of four.
An ethnic Pashtun, Gulab felt obliged to help the stranger, and carried him to his home where he was given shelter, food, water, and medical attention. Also given was protection from the Taliban, who knew Luttrell was being sheltered in the village, but could not find out where, thanks to the tight-lipped attitude of residents.
A villager eventually snuck past fighters guarding the area to deliver a hand-written note to a US military base. When commanders had possession of the message with the location of Luttrell, they dispatched helicopters and soldiers to retrieve the wounded solider.
The selfless act of kindness, based on the Pashtun culture’s three-millennium old principle of Melmastia– showing hospitality to any who need it – earned Gulab and his village praise and recognition across the world.
Five years after the unselfish act, Gulab traveled to the US to visit Luttrell, who assisted his rescuer in obtaining a visa and paying for a plane ticket. The “brothers,” as they referred to themselves, were featured in a 60 Minutes piece that told the tale of compassion and love for all peoples.
The story of a single soldier surviving a Taliban attack and being given shelter in the remote wilderness of Afghanistan was irresistible to Hollywood, which produced the 2014 movie ‘Lone Surivior.’ Mark Wahlberg starred as Luttrell.
As part of a promotional blitz, Universal Studios, the distributor for the movie, brought Gulab back to America for interviews and other publicity events.
Depending on whose view is taken, either a series of misunderstandings or the abandoning of Gulab then occurred, forcing his return to Afghanistan.
During his time promoting ‘Lone Surivor,’ he became homesick and felt abandoned, often left alone in the bedroom of his interpreter’s home. “I felt like a prisoner,” Gulab told Sami Yousafzai and Mike Spies of Vocativ.
Once his role in the promotional events was over, nearly all contact between Luttrell and himself stopped. In the same Vocativ article, Gulab says ”Marcus [had] absolutely disconnected himself.”
A month before his visa was set to expire, Luttrell’s family unexpectedly drove Gulab to the airport in Houston and told him goodbye. He was then on his way back to Afghanistan.
Complicating the plot, when the Luttrells learned Galub was speaking to Vocativ, he claims he received a $10,000 offer from the family to stop cooperating with the reporters.
Already in hot water with the Taliban, the villager’s image being splashed across Western media made things far worse.
Threats and multiple assassination attempts followed his return to Afghanistan and still continue. Often, his family is caught in the crosshairs of indiscriminate targeting by the Taliban. Bombings, shootings and near constant harassment continue, despite the family fleeing their small town to the larger city of Asadabad.
While in the US, Gulab had the opportunity to apply for asylum, but not understanding the process and implications, he chose not to apply. Certain he would be granted a green card due to his celebrity status and the praise he was receiving, his hopes were eventually dashed. He returned as an ordinary Afghani citizen to his home country, where he still fears for the safety of his family.